Opening the console up, we still have two screens, with the top one supporting glasses-free 3D while the smaller bottom screen uses resistive technology to offer interaction through touch or using the included stylus. The touch screen is as responsive as ever, with even light touches being registered accurately. The stylus is a telescopic metal affair that’s heavier and slightly longer than its DSi predecessor, and though it’s not quite as comfortable it’s still perfectly usable.
The main addition to the rather dated controls on older DS models is an analogue stick, which Nintendo calls the Circle Pad. This really is one of the 3DS’ greatest strengths. It’s vastly superior to the rather poor equivalent on the Sony PSP, offering a comfortable concave shape, slightly soft finish and perfect, springy action. It’s almost as good as the regular sticks on a joypad, and perhaps its best recommendation is that it works really well in high-precision fighting games as well as for racers, platformers and what have you.
To be honest, it pretty much makes the D-pad below it redundant, though this can be used for different functions. With all the practise Nintendo has had, it’s not surprising that the D-pad is also as good as ever, and the left and right shoulder triggers now offer far better feedback than ever before, making them a pleasure to use.
To the right of the touch screen we have the same four Y, X, A, and B buttons as before. Feedback is just a bit more shallow than on its predecessors, but you wouldn’t notice without comparing them side by side. We would really have liked to have seen a second analogue stick below these for first person shooters, and this is one advantage that Sony’s NGP or PSP2 will undoubtedly make the most of. Fast, precision first person shooters is a whole genre Nintendo has effectively handicapped itself in.
The Start and Select buttons now join a new Home button below the touchscreen. Though they have the appearance of touch sensitive controls, they’re actually normal buttons though they’re almost flush with their surround. To be honest, Nintendo has taken a step backwards with this implementation, as on the original DS models you could easily press these without needing to look. On the 3DS they’re poorly differentiated and it’s far too easy to press the wrong one by mistake.
We’re also not overly fond of the power button and prefer the older side-mounted switch. However, pressing this button doesn’t just switch the console off anymore. Rather, it brings up the choice to power down or enter Sleep Mode, which will bring back all your applications the way they were when you power it up next. Just remember that unlike Microsoft Windows’ Hibernate mode, Sleep Mode will continue draining your battery – albeit at a far reduced rate.
Overall, we like the new console’s controls. Despite a few devolutions, the Circle Pad and sharper triggers make the games we tried on the 3DS a joy to control, so we reckon Nintendo’s latest portable is definitely a positive step.